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Getting Stronger: How Powerlifting Helped Me Move My Strength Training to the Next Level


Posted by Janis F of Babyeater Lifter under Weight Training (Strength Training) on 11 April 2013 at 11:00 PM

Powerlifting isn't restricted to men who have thicker necks than your thigh and thighs the size of tree trunks! Check out Janis F's story of how a 5'2" former runner discovered the sport of powerlifting:

Voices of encouragement ring through the large, audience-filled room. One figure in the midst of the cacophony strains under the load he bears on his back. He works furiously to maintain an upright torso and drives from his hips to move his body towards the completion of his squat attempt. The lifter's tenacity pays off, for he finds his way through his sticking point and explodes upward, completing the squat and grinning as spotters help him rack the weight. Other competitors awaiting their attempts call out congratulations and the audience buzzes with enthusiasm.

Janis powerliftingWhen I began lifting weights, the idea of being the center of such an audience's attention while up on a platform attempting to lift as much weight as I could was not one I remotely entertained. I started out my strength training career unaware of the sport of powerlifting. As I researched my way through what it meant to lift weights and how to do so better with increased results, I became aware of powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, bodybuilding, strongman competitions, and other facets of the strength sport world - aware, but not informed. I assumed powerlifting was the domain of huge, burly men wearing a lot of material strapped around various parts of their body pushing and pulling bars loaded with ten or more plates around. I didn't know there were other faces and sizes who competed within the sport, so I dismissed it and focused on training in a way that echoed the training of bodybuilding and figure competitors. For two years, I remained mostly self-taught in this pursuit and did manage to change my physique to an appreciable degree. 

Bench view PowerliftingUnfortunately, I was incredibly weak, and the more I educated myself regarding strength training, the more aware of this fact I became. While I had managed to build an impressive set of deltoids, I could barely squat my bodyweight. Major muscle groups in my lower body lagged in development in comparison to the degree I had generated muscle growth in certain portions of my upper body, and I slowly came to realize that I was not working with enough weight or doing enough of the compound lifts to really develop true strength. I began looking for answers to how to take my lifting to the next level.

It was around this point in my lifting career that I met my current boyfriend, Kyle Keough. Ranked at the top of the 148 pound weight class in powerlifting, Kyle would destroy weights that were unfathomable to me when we went into the gym to lift together. Kyle knew of my tentative aspirations to become a physique competitor and respected my determination to find my own way through strength training. He also knew that the performance of compound barbell lifts would aid my desire to be successful in training my body for a physique-based competition, and together we began to explore the idea of integrating these more into my lifting programming. I still had not decided to train for powerlifting - in fact, the idea of competing at anything was something with which I struggled, and I was not even totally sure about training for a physique competition. 

You don't have to be big to lift big

Everything changed the day I deadlifted for the first time. Kyle guided me to a pull of twice my bodyweight that session, and the feeling of working with such a weight using a whole-body effort was one upon which I knew I wanted to focus my efforts in the future. Incorporating training for maximal strength - the goal of powerlifting - will take your training to another level regardless of your ultimate goals. Training your body to handle lifts of a higher intensity for a lower range of repetitions will transfer over to efforts at hypertrophy - the process of generating more muscle fibers and thus bigger muscles through certain types of strength training - and will provide you with the stimulus you need to catalyze your body's adaptation to heavier loads. 

 Read this guide on Rules and Standards for the Powerlifts and Powerlifting Competition Rules and Format to take your lifting to the competitive stage. 

Deadlift Powerlifting

Take the training Challenge for Triple Body Weight Lifts: Bench, Squat, Deadlift.

When I began training specifically for powerlifting, many things changed - including my body. I learned more about programming and different approaches to periodization my training in a way that gave my body the best chance to adapt to the forces I was asking it to bear. A defining aspect of the world of powerlifting is the variety in programming lifters use to build strength. While many lifters take different approaches to training for maximal strength, almost all of these approaches involve periodization and a planned progression over time.

Janis ShrugsIf your strength training seems to have stalled, looking to the programming of powerlifters can help you unstick it. Once I began the process of periodized training for powerlifting, I broke through plateaus I had reached in my mostly-linearly-programmed strength training and my body changed - and continues to change - as a result. 

Powerlifting tests strength for three main lifts: the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift. Many sports conditioning programs incorporate training for these lifts in order to help athletes develop more power in the execution of their chosen sport. If your strength training interests lie in developing Olympic weightlifting skills, training for maximal strength using principles employed by powerlifters will ultimately give you a maximal strength base from which you can improve the more velocity-dominant lifts that make up Olympic lifting. If you are interested in bodybuilding, adapting your training to include the larger compound lifts is a necessity in building a strength foundation that compliments hypertrophy work. If you're just interested in "getting stronger," like I was, joining the sport of powerlifting may be right for you.

No matter your size, gender, or age, powerlifting offers you the opportunity to set strength goals and meet them. 

Janis Finkely Iowa University Powerlifting Team

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Awesome strength, thanks for sharing Janis!


    Really enjoyed this was a great read and glad its all going well!!

    Adrian K and Janis F encouraged this.


    Loved reading this, well written and refreshingly new to me :)

    Adrian K encouraged this.


    @cags R - I have done two competitions and have a third in less than two weeks--on the 20th! I'm very excited and ready to start cutting (water) weight quite soon. Only a few days left of glorious salt before I have to cut it out of my diet...

    Adrian K and Ed C encouraged this.


    @jane H I'm so glad you got something from this article! I really just want people to be aware this sport exists and that it's very accesible.

    Ed C and Jane H encouraged this.


    Yes I'm glad you did write a nice article about this sport because as you said it should be made more aware that its a good sport and for more people to step up and have a good go at it :)

    Jane H encouraged this.


    Hi @babyeater, it is really interesting that when I was in my teens and 20s, I felt too intimidated by the big guys at gym to even try weights. The grunting, huge muscles and the huge weights made me feel uncomfortable and self conscious. The few times I tried, I had to spend about 5 minutes taking all the weights off the bar, before lifting the bar almost without any weight on it! As I have got older, wiser and more secure in myself I have embraced weights and bodyweight exercises and have noticed such a difference in my strength and the way my body looks. I just hope young girls don't take so long to catch on to the benefits! I think society is much more respectful and admiring of women lifting weights now too, I can feel that in the gym.


    @jane H --you make such good points here. I cannot imagine what it was like to try to lift years ago as a woman. I'm so glad you're now in the gym working with weights because it's an excellent component to anyone's fitness pursuits even if not taken to remotely the level to which competitive lifters take it. I want to continue to normalize the idea of strong women--there's a lot of work left to be done and a lot of prejudice against the idea still in existence. Because I'm small, I escape some of the horrible comments I've seen made towards female lifters with serious amounts of muscle. I hope this changes someday.

    Jane H encouraged this.


    @babyeater it really is a fascinating shift in social values and attitudes towards women. Back in the day, women were expected to don the g string leotard (yep I had a few) and the leg warmers. Our role models were Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton John - think 'Physical'. At gym girls and guys went their separate ways, we went off to aerobics and the boys headed to the weights, never the two to meet! I can remember my favorite pair of Reebok 'Princess' pure white runners! Fast forward a few decades and have a look at popular culture: Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider for instance. Strong, independent women. It is so refreshing and encouraging to see; I love that you and your boyfriend work out together. Such a healthy interest that you share :)


    I used to just do powerlifting on my own in the gym for fun, but ever since I tried competing for the first time, I can't wait to do it again. There's nothing quite like a roomful of people cheering as you dump all your strength into hitting a new PR.

    Adrian K and Ed C encouraged this.


    @vincent S --YES! Competing really impacts the way you think about training between competitions. I'm glad you did decide to compete--many people find it very intimidating. Keep it up!

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